By Jeremy Taylor
Every year in May we celebrate the Mexican American holiday known as “Cinco De Mayo.” It is the time of year that the LatinX Community celebrates Mexican Heritage and the triumph of the Mexican people over the French Army in 1862 at the first Battle of Puebla.
This Cinco De Mayo however, Northeast Ohio’s Mexican, Mexican American, and LatinX Community is celebrating another analogous victory.
Earlier this year a building located at 5602 Detroit Avenue in the Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood renowned as “Club Azteca” faced the wrecking ball. The building which is on land owned by a real estate developer called, the Bond Group, was about to be demolished to make way for new housing in one of Cleveland’s “hottest” neighborhoods.
Club Azteca was a group started by Cleveland’s Mexican Immigrants many of which moved to the area after World War II. The goal was to preserve their culture and heritage. Club Azteca was formed as a forum at first in the 1930’s and later became incorporated in the 1940’s. It was not until many years later in 1951 that they bought the building on Detroit Avenue.
The group celebrated Cinco De Mayo and Mexican Independence Day as well as held fiestas and other expressions of the rich history such as food, fellowship, dancing, and the arts. It was also a place that they could build community through civic action and support for Hispanic Clevelanders.
According to an October 27, 1951 article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Club Azteca was acquired with support from around the country and they even received a donation from the National Bank of Mexico. The article also states that members of the club at one meeting all contributed “one day’s pay.” Amazingly, “most of the money was raised through two fiestas we give every year in May and September,” said in the article by their treasurer Charles Moreno in 1951.
The building became a hub for growth. Because it is small in stature, many of their larger events were held at nearby locations with more room for the growing community.
Unfortunately, the building started to fall off and eventually became somewhat vacant and is in some disrepair. Still, the building’s spirit is sensed in the neighborhood through its design. It has simple commercial masonry and an exterior akin to stucco in an adobe style with a bright sign which reads “Club Azteca” above what appears to be the Aztec Calendar. The building is a visible emblem of the Mexican American story in the city.
Gentrification is not new to many Cleveland neighborhood’s, especially on the West Side. It is understandable that when the LatinX Community learned the building was to be torn down erasing a landmark that is an architectural portrait of Mexicana Legacy in the city, they spoke up.
In February, a news conference captured a protest of the future development plan to tear down the building. According to an April 9 Ideastream story, this uproar from the community organizing and petitioning gave The Azteca Coalition which is comprised of Club Azteca, Inc., Comité Mexicano de Cleveland, Young Latino Network and the Mexican American Historical Society, a seat at the table. The Cleveland Foundation also supported the coalition’s efforts.
The Bond Group owned the property fair and square and could have torn it down without any conciliation with the community whatsoever, but the message from the community to be remembered and honored was clear.
A written agreement was made between the coalition and the developers. Although the structure will be razed, the developers agreed to pay homage to the culture within the new development to preserve the history of an important organization, a local community and its story. The legacy of Club Azteca will be memorialized through sculptures and traditional Mexican artwork.
On this Cinco De Mayo we salute the power of the people and the collaboration of the public to advocate and demand that their heritage and regional history not be erased. Much like the Battle of Puebla, the LatinX community’s victory around Club Azteca should be a major moral boost for Cleveland’s Mexican American culture.
We hope that as we honor the abundance of rich ethnic cultures that make up the city of Cleveland that these communities are remembered and brought back to relevance so that our city can grow to its full potential. We embrace this city’s cultural diversity and see it as one of our assets and we applaud any group that maintains and shares their history.